Defend Truth


No need for land reform panic — it is inevitable but must be orderly


Songezo Zibi is the national leader of Rise Mzansi.

‘Land expropriation without compensation’ really is a red herring. It has been weaponised to scare South Africans away from each other, rather than bringing us together.

“We have the land, we have the hands, but where is the plan to put them together so that our country can actually work?” This question rings in my ears every time I think about land in South Africa.

I ask it when I go home to Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape, and see the chaos of rural sprawl and the way it constrains peoples’ lives and compromises their livelihoods.

I ask it when I visit informal settlements in Gauteng or KwaZulu-Natal and meet young people with no prospect of employment. With no place they can call their own, no place they will ever own.

I ask it when I visit farming areas in the Free State or Western Cape and meet workers who provide the food that keeps this nation alive but have no security of tenure.

The land is there: there is more than enough in this beautiful country for all of us. The hands are there: we have a youthful population desperate to make a better life for themselves and their families. What we have not had, for the first 30 years of our democracy, is a workable plan around what we at Rise Mzansi call “land justice”.

We have begun to answer the question in our People’s Manifesto: “The availability and distribution of land to all South Africans who need it is central to our nation-building efforts, and is a challenge that must be addressed within a generation.”

Instead of workable policy in recent years, South Africa has had criminal negligence on the part of the ANC government. This has brought us to a point where the land reform process has stalled, where rational spatial planning barely exists, and where the state has been unable to deliver the “adequate housing” guaranteed by Section 26 of the Constitution, obliging the state to “take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right”. As a result, South Africans have been forced into the illegal occupation of land in some instances, and forced off the land in others.

Scare tactics

Instead of reasonable debate on the issue, we have had populist and scaremongering rhetoric — especially around the phrase “land expropriation without compensation”. This takes us nowhere.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Expropriation Bill not just about land, but all property, divergent groups warn MPs

On one side there is the EFF, talking impossibly about the return of all land to black people. On the other side there is the DA, trumpeting the rights of property owners with such shrillness that it just sounds like white privilege protecting itself, so blind to land hunger that it is unable to come up with any equitable land policy at all.

Both sides see “land” as a zero sum: if I get some, you lose some. Neither side seems to recognise that our only path forward is one that finds space for all of us in this capacious land — black, brown and white; rich and poor; rural and urban.

Of course, land is a finite resource. But proper planning can increase its value, and its yield, exponentially. Ask any farmer. The better we plan, the more we can grow.

Understood in this frame, “land expropriation without compensation” really is a red herring. It has been weaponised to scare South Africans away from each other, rather than bringing us together.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Putting the Expropriation Bill into perspective – it’s not the ugly ogre some make it out to be

The truth is that any functional state must be able to have this mechanism, and in South Africa, as everywhere else, it has always been used: for dams, highways, and other strategic priorities. As our best legal scholars, people like Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, have already pointed out, there was not even a need to amend the Constitution to permit this. The state’s right to do it has always been there.

The question is not whether the state should expropriate land without compensation. The question is rather whether this expropriation is being done as part of a broader development plan — one that is, in turn, part of a viable plan for social and economic recovery, from the local up to the national level.

Understanding expropriation

Let’s understand “expropriation” for what it is: just one instrument that can be activated to bring about meaningful land reform. Let’s focus instead on what really matters: which is getting that plan right and putting into government the right people to implement it.

That plan looks roughly like this.

First, let us do a proper survey of land ownership and occupancy in South Africa. Without accurate information, it is not possible to make informed policy choices. This will enable us to understand who owns land, who occupies it without title, such as most people in the former homeland in which I was born. We will also be able to know who is “squatting”, their housing and sanitation conditions.

Second, we must take account of immediate and long-term needs, such as food security, urbanisation, rural stock farming and population growth. The need for land is always growing with an increasing population, so the decisions we take now must still produce results in 30 years’ time.

Third, we must do proper spatial planning that includes rural communities. This means reaching agreement with traditional authorities on land planning and allocation so that there is space to provide bulk and network infrastructure in advance. Stock farmers would benefit greatly from such an arrangement as unplanned land allocation is making it increasingly difficult to sustainably raise stock.

Finally, we can decide how much expropriation is needed for the above public purposes, as our Constitution allows us to do. There is no need to be hysterical about it.

South Africa has historical land injustice and has current and future needs. It is simply not possible to retain the current land ownership and occupancy patterns and still be a just society. Anyone who identifies with our constitutional values must as a matter of necessity also believe in land justice as our common obligation, rather than as a victim.

Victims are the landless, under-serviced and ignored — and they deserve as much justice as everyone else. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    There is a fatal assumption that flaws this whole argument: “…we have a youthful population desperate to make a better life for themselves and their families.” As anyone who has ever had a tenant discovers, people don’t care much about what they didn’t work for. This may sound like I’m supporting his argument, but when something is just gifted to you, you place much less value on it that if you had to work for it. And while I’m always unwilling to trot out the “Zimbabwe” argument, one only has to look at the catastrophe with farming to see where this takes us. A far better option will be to do exactly what advanced countries have done for centuries, and that is to make it easy to apply for a property loan, but be strict about repayment. This gives individuals an incentive to take care of it and make it productive. Of course, it doesn’t suit the socialist agenda at all.

  • Dr Know says:

    If I practise ‘Appropriation without Compensation’ in my local supermarket I will be accused of shoplifting. Is it then acceptable to shoplift someone’s farm, or house, or eventually pension and finally bank account? This is the thin edge of the wedge which will be hammered in with the help of our new friends in Russia and China as they quietly re-colonise Africa using our own greed and ignorance against us.

  • Raymond Auerbach says:

    I have farmed organically for 54 years, trained farmers for twenty years, managed research into organic farming systems for ten years, and been involved in policy (African Union, Agricultural Research Council, SA Organic Sector Organisation, Network of Organic Agricultural Research (Chair) and President of the international body). I have show how to close the yield gap, so that organic farming systems work economically to feed Africa. I have worked all my life helping people to care for soil and produce healthy food. My experience is that there are not too many people who WANT to farm. Rise Mzansi will have to find ways of inspiring youth to farm, of transforming food systems to produce healthy food, of supporting the transition towards sustainable food systems. That is your real challenge: how to support the evolution of food systems which help small scale farmers to access markets, help small scale food processors to add value, help farmers with knowledge and resources to mentor aspiring farmers. If you commit to that, you will have my full support! Professor Raymond Auerbach, Soil Science and Plant Production (formerly Nelson Mandela University, now Centre of Excellence for Food Security, University of the Western Cape).

  • jennifer slutzkin says:

    Yes people need land. But dont take away farms from farmers who are producing our food. That is insane. There is enough to spare. Give people land but train them to be farmers otherwise its a waste of time. And then we will become another Zimbabwe.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The land issue has become problematical not by ownership, but by other issues, like employment, and development, and of course historical/traditional claims. The mass movement of people from one area to another is largely out of desperation, in order to get work, earn money, live. What Helen Zille referred to as “economic refugees” to the outrage of the ANC, but which is actually not far from the truth. This migration is done without proper planning, resources or concern about the wider consequences, because it is done in desperation. The result is immeasurable pressure on municipalities which cannot cope with the influx of thousands. These incomers, having no option and essentially homeless, squat land, and if they can’t do that, they simply live on the streets, railway lines or any state land. The definition of “home” has been legally changed to accommodate them. A cardboard box literally becomes home, and along with it, the occupant accrued certain rights – and the authorities, obligations. This is clearly an unsustainable situation, and no government in the world is able to deal with it to the satisfaction of all parties. The only way to deal with it is by finding solutions at the root of the problem – jobs. That means developing an economic model that removes the need to set up a second home in order to find work. This land issue is indeed a red herring, because it has become an election ploy. Government must GOVERN. This has not happened for the past 15 years.

  • Max Ozinsky says:

    Fedup, when you refer to people who got land which they did not work for, you must be referring to the white settlers in Rhodesia who stole the land from the indigenous people?

    • Just Thinking says:

      Hi Max,

      Your comment is based on trolling other users into saying something that you can use in an argument against them. It may seem like an intelligent argument, but it is just trolling.

      “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        You are wrong. My argument is that settlers took the land from the indigenous people and were then subsidised and protected by the colonial government to become farmers. Most were not farmers when they went to Zimbabwe – especially those who went there after world war 2. Many of these stolen farms were then reclaimed in the land reform. Fedup’s comment has an underlying racial element in that he ignores history and sees the indigeous people as getting land for free when actually it was stolen from them.

        So what is your improved argument?

        • Just Thinking says:

          Maybe you should go read his post again when emotion is out of the way and logical thinking kicks in. You seem to read posts emotionally. Now you are trolling me, and I will have none of it.

        • Rod H MacLeod says:

          Max – have you dealt with the issue of “indigenous peoples” properly? Were the Nguni occupiers of those lands truly indigenous, or did they themselves invade and colonise the true first nation peoples of that area?

        • chris smit says:

          When something is stolen from me I report it to the authorities. It will be investigated and resolved in the courts
          Please find another word to describe what you think happened in Zimbabwe

          • District Six says:

            What an ahistorical, revisionist comment! The 1913 Land Acts that disenfranchised black people in SA and made us refugees in the land of our birth ‘was’ the law! I’m pretty sure the same applied to Zimbabwe.

    • ST ST says:

      Yep there it is. Max…sooner or later you’re going to be told that ‘you’re also not from round here!” That blacks are also colonisers. They were just bad it! Too dumb to properly exploit the land its natives for their benefit with their jungle law etc.

      SA blacks ancestors are African and South African. SA white ancestors are European. It’s not the same thing. Yes today almost all SA citizens were born under the same sky and call all rightly claim to be South African. But people mustn’t forget deliberately get SA history wrong when it suits.

      Suddenly the history of the Khoi matter as a weapon against Ngunis who are now being told they are countryless The history of all natives was deliberately suppressed in favour of teaching how Africa and other Black/brown countries were ‘discovered’ and liberated from their barbarism by brilliant Europeans.

      This goes along with all the truths of convenience such as Apartheid corruption was not corrupt, BEE and land redistribution is corrupt. It was OK the other way round? It was not then and it wouldn’t be now. Which suits apartheid beneficiaries fine as they get to keep benefits and still be smug about it. But yeah ok for the sake of peace and avoiding further misery. Let’s all try move on

  • John Brodrick says:

    Well said. Private ownership of land is at the root of all inequality, because it divides the community into two classes: those who own land to live on, and those who must pay others in cash, kind or labour in order to have anywhere to live at all. Yet calls for state ownership of all land raise so many problems that we need to find another way around the difficulty, a rational way to distribute land without breaking down what we all currently depend upon for our very survival. We have the advantage of being able to learn from the Zimbabwean example how NOT to do it. The question is have we learned the lesson or not. So far it appears that some of our politicians have no intention of learning anything from history.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      It is not ownership that is the issue – it is security of tenure. Ownership is one construct of such security of tenure – there are others. But never for one moment believe that if a state tells you that you have no security of tenure [expropriation without compensation] that you will have an attitude fostering long-term development of the land. And farming is long term, be sure.

  • Titus Khoza says:

    What stops/stopped you from going to the current governing party and put all those noble ideas on their table and implore them to try to put those noble plans to practise.

    The answer my friend is : that way you there is zero chance of you making more money for your own self.
    2. You want power for yourself and you don’t want to empower the you are purpoting to represent.

  • Nonnie Oelofse says:


  • Hermann Rabe says:

    Please show me a poll where ‘Land’ is right up there as one of the top priorities of the citizens of SA? Generally, its jobs, crime, education and health (not necessarily in that order). This is great campaign stuff where veiled promises of free stuff is made, nicely couched in moral imperatives. And once again, it is a political elite who thinks he can tell people what is important instead of just addressing the obvious necessities first – as the people you intend to lead tell you in poll after poll.

  • Brandon VE says:

    I don’t understand how having land is the solution to any problem unless you want to be a farmer.
    Most young successful people are renting and working. They do not own land and very happy with that.
    If they had land in the arse end of nowhere there first thing they’d do is well it so they had capital to fund their lifestyle, expenses or debts.

    Land is only attractive to a rural low/no income/no tax voter.

  • Vincent Britz says:

    My Question is that if The Daily Maverick is publishing the views of 1 political party, then why are they not allowing the other political parties the same platform?

    This only suggest that the daily maverick is controlled by the party in question and is just a propaganda tool for said party!

  • Maronga Maronga says:


  • Maronga Maronga says:

    Thank you

  • Confucious Says says:

    It’s about the money, not the land. What they have not realised is that you can’t take someone’s business and income; you can only take the land that the business stands on.

  • Clifton Coetzee says:

    People come from all over South Africa and just as many from Northern Africa , to the Western Cape. They knock up shacks as close to CBD’s as possible, and on recreational spaces – and then protest for land, houses, services and benefits. This is exactly why SA and WC specifically needs influx control. Migrants are choking WC towns. It’s not sustainable. Crime rates are soaring. Civil unrest is inevitable. It will be ugly.

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Oh lord, if you think the labourers who made product are able keep doing so without the farmer, you have gone off your meds.

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